“Christianity and the American Revolution”

1776 Declaration of IndependenceOn this 233rd commemoration of the American Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the debate among Christians is still open whether or not the American Revolution was Scripturally justified. A second related question is whether the independence movement was motivated by Christian ideals or by Enlightenment deists.

I dug up a couple of engaging articles from the Spring 1996 issue of Christianity Today of which the theme was “Christianity and the American Revolution.”

In “Jesus vs. the Watchmaker,” Derek H. Davis examines the difference in how Christians and deists defended the revolution’s goals and ideals. While postmillennial Christians entertained thoughts of an independent Christian nation as the “New Israel,” Enlightenment deists saw the revolution as the beginning of the universal establishment of peace, freedom, and morality, a secular version of the millennium.

In “Preaching the Insurrection,” Harry Stout documents how preachers of different persuasions rallied the angry colonists to declare independence and take up arms. Stout first compares the paltry 15-minute homilies today with the 1-1.5-hour sermons during the colonial period, estimating that the average colonial churchgoer would have listened to some 7,000 sermons by the time he/she is 70 years old, or 10,000 hours, equivalent to listening to lectures to obtain 10  separate undergraduate degrees in a modern university.

How did colonial ministers, most of them Reformed Calvinists, justify preaching sermons in support of the war of independence? First, they regarded the English Parliament’s 1766 declaration that Parliament had sovereignty over the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” as a violation of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and God’s sole claim to sovereignty over all.

Secondly, Reformed colonialists regarded British tyranny as opposed to their identity as God’s covenant people. For them, bowing to the British crown also represented idolatry—worshipping another god.

This weekend, read these two articles and your 4th of July celebration will be more than just another dazzling fireworks display.

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5 thoughts on ““Christianity and the American Revolution””

  1. I’m an atheist myself but my mother practiced the old ways as her mother did and so on back to England and France [Gaul] before. The family is matriarchal, several times the name has passed by marriage when there was no male heir, the male spouse took the name. But that family head has always been a woman. There is a book on a Millennium of my family history in most good genealogy libraries. Several volumes exist on the family in America too.
    Frisson is a non de plume. We like to keep secrets.
     
     

  2. My degree is from the University of Virginia, when we have attended since before the Civil War and I will pit my knowlege of America’s true “religious” history against anyone.  Yale was founded as a Divinity School as was Harvard. UVa was America’s first real University. There is no hearsay – this is all historical fact.
    This is not an accurate representation of the colonial history from the Virginia perspective. And that writer that said a 70 year old colonial had heard 70,000 hours of sermons might apply to a Puritan in the towns of New England but in the far ranging Virginia colony it was often 50 miles to a parrish and Church matters fell away and a taste for sport was evolving. It is also silly when live expectancy was about 50 years.
    GOOGLE the book The Witch of Jamestown – The Cotton family in Virginia accused an ancestor of mine of being a witch a decade before the Salem trials. Historial fact that Emma Cotton, Mather’s cousin, accused us in Jamestown in 1675. When he ran for Mass. again after Bacon’s defeat, Emma went with him for fear of “witches” retailation – FACT. It is in Mather’s papers.
    My family [this appears in many geneolgy sources] were heretics from way back. Twice ex-communicated by Beckett in the 12th Century, my ancestors arranged to have him pulled from Cantebury and beat to death.
    But even more of a fact is that many of the Cavaliers only followed Christian faith on the surface for the political value while they practiced much older ways in secret.
     
     

  3. This is grossly inaccurate, “colonial ministers, most of them Reformed Calvinists” – the Calvinists were ONLY in Massachusetts and Connecticut – Rhode Island declared religious freedom 10o before the Revolution, Maryland  was Catholic, Anglican in Virginia and Carolina, Quaker in Pennsylvania.
    Puritans had tried to start a war in 1676, with the purpose of founding a Christian National. They were defeated. Bet you didn’t know that did you?
    Dr Cotton Mather [ the witch hunter himself] traveled to Jamestown in 1676 looking for “witches”. (My grandmother used to say that we were hunted by Cotton Mather) General Bacon was leading Cromwellian Puritans in an insurrection against Gov. Berkeley and The Cavaliers [my ancestors, Jefferson’s ancestors and Geo. Washington’s ancestors all were Cavaliers].
    Bacon and Mather joined forces in an attempt to take over the heathen colony as Mather called it. It is known as Bacon’s Rebellion.
    Here’s a quote about the Puritans purposes, I quote:
    Dr. Cotton Mather to General Bacon, 1676,  “I will comply with your wishes General It is not my plan to do much preaching in this Colony. We must first get control of all these American colonies and after we establish our political supremacy we will then give the people a pure religion which had its birth in the Bible and never passed through the alembic of Rome.
    As soon as you drive Berkeley out of Virginia, Massachusetts will form an alliance with you. Twenty thousand men commanded by Goff and Whalley will march southward overawing the Dutch in New York, the Quakers in Pennsylvania and the Catholics in Maryland. The Puritan power will be established with you at its head as Lord Protector and me at the head of a religious establishment to be called the Church of America”

    from the book “The Witch of Jamestown” by J.T.Bowyer, 1890

    Sound familiar? And Puritans, now called Fundamentalists have been trying even since to create a Church of America.
    An ancestor of mine hung Whalley, a relative of his provided the posion that killed Bacon and my family hunted Mather until he ran north again.

    1. I wouldn’t argue against a Yale Professor of American Christianity. Many of the things you’re saying are hearsay.

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